Letter from a vagabond 07 10 2018 Traveling to Verdun…

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Yesterday morning, I had a feeling of triumph – I successfully validated my Eurail Pass and made a seat reservation on the 10:40 TGV to Metz, where I transferred to a local train and made my way to Verdun, site of one of World War I’s greatest/worst battles.

The process was a little nerve wracking and I made it through with the help of Google Translate, my incredibly terrible French and the kindness of people who saw I was a baffled and, since I WAS trying, helped me manage with their far less terrible English.

By chance, I watched a man insert his ticket into a machine near where I was sitting and realized my ticket needed to be validated before I boarded, so I inserted mine also.  It says on the top, “BILLET a composter avant l’acces au train.” Loosely translated: Ticket composted [stamped?] before getting on the train.

The decision to go to Verdun was by chance.  One toss of the coin went to south, another to east; I looked at a map of France and to the southeast was Verdun, a recommendation of my friend David Arcara, who thought I would find it moving.

We left Paris, a Gallic fifteen minutes late, and raced through green farm fields.  As on farms in America, clusters of trees mark the placement of houses; little villages slide by in a moment as we travel at 312 kilometers per hour.  In a little over an hour, we arrived at Metz.

Last night, I had a delightful dinner with Pierre Alain Varreon, a friend of my friend Mary Ann Zimmer, at his favorite spot, Chez Paul, a vibrant place that winds through rooms and floors.  A set of repurposed subway doors from the 19th century, separates two of the rooms.  He drank red wine; I drank white.  We talked for hours and then I returned to the hotel, curled in bed, slept, woke early to face the gauntlet of validation.

It has been forty years since I have spent this much time in Europe.  Each moment reminds me to be watchful, in order to figure things out.  It is a foreign country – they do things differently here, large and small nuances.

Yesterday, I walked from my hotel to the Eiffel Tower.  Reaching it, I discovered it in now enclosed in double walls of bullet proof glass at the ground level, black bereted soldiers holding machine guns are all around.  One has to pass through security to go to the Tower.  Finding a bench facing the entrance, I remember a night, almost forty years ago to the day, when I and a half dozen plus Americans, stood beneath the Eiffel Tower at two in the morning and sang our tipsy version of “The Star-Spangled Banner,” to the amusement and disdain of a few lightly armed gendarmes.  That world is gone; it, too, is a foreign country.  They do things differently there as well, in the past.

Pierre Alain, who is a lifetime Parisian with long stints abroad, is thinking of moving to Portugal, where, I am told, all kinds of expats are finding their way.  Jim, who drove a bus during the summer on the Vineyard on my route, told me he is going to winter in Granada, Spain.

On now the second train of the day, a commuter from Metz to Verdun, I sailed past French towns.  Leaving the toilette, I held a door for an elderly lady and she was on the train with me.  She attempted to ask me a question and all I could do was indicate my French, c’est horrible!  She smiled and understood.

Bridges and underpasses were splashed with graffiti art, much as in the States.  In Paris, it seemed every available surface had been painted.  My amateur evaluation:  New York has better graffiti.




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